20 Nov 2018

Unlawful police detention of man reasonable, IPCA finds

1:29 pm on 20 November 2018

An incident in which police unlawfully detained a man during a mental health crisis highlights the difficulties facing officers, the police watchdog says.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

On 12 October 2017, just before midnight, mental health support helpline Lifeline contacted police concerned about a man who had attempted suicide but abruptly ended the call.

Police visited the man's home and when they found him distressed and agitated, he was taken to the Queenstown Police Station to be assessed by a mental health professional.

Invercargill mental health staff, who the Queenstown police were referred to, did not arrive until seven hours later. They assessed him and he was released from custody.

In a statement, police said the officers believed it was unsafe to leave the man alone.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found the detention of the man to be unlawful but the actions of the police were reasonable in the circumstances.

It said the delay in treatment was beyond police control.

"Incidents such as this are commonplace, and demonstrate the real difficulties confronted by Police when dealing with those experiencing a mental health crisis. Police often feel compelled to act unlawfully in order to protect the distressed individual and the wider public, and the Authority does not blame them for doing so," Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty, said.

"I support the actions of the officers involved, we have a duty of care to protect life and safety," Queenstown Lakes Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen said.

"Our officers were trying to protect this man and ensure his safety."

Similar situations occur every day in New Zealand and mental health is a complex issue, Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables said.

"It is our purpose to keep people safe and our staff were doing exactly that.

"Police will continue to work closely with mental health crisis teams, and health facilities to provide the best possible response for those in distress."

The government is currently holding an inquiry into mental health.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.